What’s the Right Material for My Driveway?
Grass or gravel? Clay or concrete blocks? Browse this beginner’s guide to help you choose the best for your home
These days, Tarmac isn’t the only way to go. Here, three professionals share their expertise on the key choices for a smart, well-draining driveway.
Professional advice from: Darren Plumridge of D Plumridge Professional Patio & Driveway Construction; Terrey Maufe of Outerspace Creative Landscaping; David Dixon of Greenvision Garden Design
A well-chosen and neatly laid driveway can make all the difference to your home, smartening up the front, facilitating off-street parking, and making the journey to your front door clean and tidy.
We’re all aware that paving over our patch of ground can be detrimental to the environment, with reports of surface water run-off overloading pipes and causing flooding, but, in recent years, new measures have been introduced to tackle this and good drainage is now a requirement.
Any new driveway greater than 5 sq m must have a Sustainable Drainage System (SuDS), which allows water to drain into the ground rather than the main pipes, which have limited capacity. This can be achieved either by using a permeable material or with a drain that allows water to run into a flowerbed or soakaway.
Your substrate will in part dictate which option you go for. “If you’re on clay, it’s no good having permeable [as the water won’t drain away],” Darren Plumridge says. This can cause problems particularly in the winter, when water underneath can freeze and expand. Similarly, it’s not suitable for a house built before the 1930s with a cellar, “as you could flood the cellar out”, Darren says. In these cases, water directed to a soakaway is more appropriate.
The most important element, which a professional contractor will ensure, is a well-laid, sturdy substrate to avoid sinking and cracking. “Paving’s only as good as what’s underneath it,” Darren says. “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.”
Check out the pros and cons of these key materials:
This is the most popular choice for driveways. Blocks can be made of concrete, stone or clay; some are permeable, while others will need a soakaway.
One of the key attractions of this type of paving is that blocks can be removed for access without ruining the finish. “Unlike solid surfaces, sections can be lifted and relaid easily, for an oil leak or if a trench needs to be dug for repairs to services to the house, for instance,” David Dixon says. “Afterwards, you wouldn’t know the work had been done.”
All types of block paving will need some maintenance. The joints between blocks can attract dirt, which can in turn allow weeds to thrive. Scraping out weeds as they appear will be easier than allowing them to spread their roots into the cement.
There are several options for grout, from traditional mortar to two-part epoxy resin, which can help to reduce weeds taking hold, so talk to your contractor, who can assess the best option based on weather conditions, budget, aesthetics and, crucially, the sub-base.
Pros They have an unbeatable authentic look and are hard-wearing and very long-lasting. They won’t fade in sunlight and in fact tend to look better with age. They can also add value to your property.
Cons This is the most expensive block option, plus they take time to lay, as the edges can be uneven, adding to the labour costs. You’ll need to remove weeds from the joints and brush the paving with soapy water to keep it clean.
Pros Concrete blocks are cheaper than either clay or stone. They’re pretty durable and should last 20 years. The many colour options mean you can complement the style of your house, and it’s possible to get a mix of colours, as seen here, as well as different shapes. They come in accurate sizes, so they’re easier to lay, though the process will still take time. They can also be tumbled for a more rustic look, as here.
Cons The colour will fade. “If I brought you the same block in five years’ time, you’d think, wow, I don’t ever remember it being that colour,” Darren says. They’re also likely to absorb oil and dirt, and the aggregate can become exposed in older blocks. Avoiding any acidic detergents, brush with soapy water to keep them clean.
“Clay blocks fell out of fashion, but they’ve started coming back round again,” Darren says. They have more of a rustic look and particularly suit older houses, though the range of colours and sizes mean they can work with any era of home.
“They come in brick size 200mm x 100mm, or you can get small ones, or thin ones – 50mm x 200mm – so you can create a plank effect, which looks really neat,” Darren says. “They can be laid in lots of different patterns – herringbone [seen here], stretcher bond, or basketweave, for instance.”
Pros While clay blocks are more expensive than concrete, they tend to be cheaper than stone. They won’t fade in sunlight and they’re strong and very hard-wearing, lasting for decades. They have a uniform colour throughout, so if they’re chipped, it’s harder to tell.
Cons There are fewer colour choices than with concrete and they’re not as widely available. They’re often fractionally different sizes, so they need to be laid with slightly more care. They can be prone to moss, but clay paving tends to be ok with acidic detergents (though it’s worth doing a patch test first), so if you have stubborn stains or moss that soapy water won’t remove, try scrubbing with a solution of white wine vinegar.
Permeable resin-bound surfaces consist of natural aggregate mixed with clear resin (not to be confused with resin bonded, which involves scattering aggregate onto a layer of resin, resulting in an impermeable surface).
“Resin-bound gravel is a fantastically versatile material for driveways that can accommodate curves and gradients with ease,” Terrey Maufe says. “There’s a huge choice of decorative aggregates available to use as the base material, so the look and feel can be adapted to the property.”
It’s also easy to maintain, simply requiring regular brushing and hosing down, and can take a jet washer if more power is needed (up to around 2000 psi, as any more might damage the surface).
Weeds shouldn’t grow up through the material, but some can take hold. “They’re not growing up through the paving; they’re down-seeded into it, from airborne seeds and any that birds may drop,” Darren says. “However, you can go over it once a year to clear any growth.”
Pros It’s more expensive than gravel, but generally a slightly cheaper price than concrete block paving. There are no loose stones that can dislodge or will need to be swept up. “Minimal joints are required, which minimises wear and weathering and creates a smooth surface ideal for wheelchairs, pushchairs and vehicles,” Terrey says. “It’s a tough surface that still maintains grip when wet.”
Cons If access is needed underneath, the repair won’t be seamless – it will always be scarred. There isn’t much scope for variation. “Due to the small module size of the decorative aggregates, the material can look homogeneous if laid in a large area without due consideration of the overall design, borders and edges,” Terrey says. It’s not as long-lasting as some other materials: resin-bound driveways tend to be guaranteed for around 10 years, though they can last longer if well laid and looked after.
This is probably the most cost-effective driveway material. It’s very versatile and easily installed. “If it’s used in combination with other materials, it can serve to reduce the overall project costs, solve issues with drainage, and provide a contrast in texture and surface,” Terrey says.
It’s a natural product that can be reused or reemployed in the future, and, if responsibly sourced, is a sustainable choice.
It’s worth giving gravel the once-over with a rake on a fairly frequent basis to keep debris at bay, and if any dips develop, fill them with new gravel as soon as possible rather than raking it from elsewhere.
Pros There’s a huge choice of decorative aggregates available to suit most properties and it can easily be laid in awkward spaces. “Due to the ease of application, the material lends itself to complexly shaped areas,” Terrey says. “It’s also permeable if laid on a suitable substrate.”
It can easily be refreshed with an application of a ‘top-up’ once the material has settled or if it requires replenishment after a period of time. “It also gives and audible ‘crunch’ when it’s driven or walked on, which can be a cue for the imminent arrival or a visitor, wanted or unwanted,” Terrey adds.
Cons “It can be prone to weeds if it’s not properly installed on a compacted sub-base incorporating a geotextile membrane,” Terrey says. “Also, solid edges need to be created to prevent the material travelling beyond the confines of the driveway area.”
“When you’re driving over it, it can tend to migrate into the subbase and you lose it,” Darren says.
Gravel surfaces can’t accommodate steep gradients and fine gravel can attract neighbourhood cats leaving unwelcome deposits. “It can also be problematic for smaller or narrow wheels, such as on wheelchairs, buggies and wheelie bins,” Terrey says.
“You can wear your high heels on it, or push a pram or wheelchair across it and it’s very solid,” Darren says. “Foxes and cats don’t like to do their business on it, because it’s tough on their feet.”
Having a grid does up the price in the short-term, although it will extend the life of the driveway. “It’s only slightly cheaper than block paving, as it’s proving very popular,” Darren says. “There are membranes in the back of these systems, so they’re pretty good, but you’d probably need to do some maintenance once a year.” It’s a good choice for clay soil. “It stabilises poor ground,” he says.
Grid systems can also be filled with soil and grass for a natural-looking driveway. “We install a lot of plastic grid systems, lay them on a substrate and fill them with grass,” Darren says. It’s also possible to buy concrete cellular paving systems for the same purpose, or lay brick-shaped pavers in a ‘hopsack’ pattern, leaving gaps for grass, as long as the edges are solid and usage isn’t heavy.
You need to choose hardy grass, such as Chewings fescue, which is tough and requires little water or fertiliser, so take advice from your designer or contractor.
Pros It looks lush and natural and won’t get ruts, but can still support heavy loads. It’s relatively easy to install.
Cons It will need to be weeded, watered and mowed. It’s advisable to wait a month for the soil to settle before adding the grass.
Which driveway material do you have and are you happy with it? Or, if you’re considering refreshing yours, which of these might work for you? Share your thoughts and photos in the Comments.